Opinion: Resident Evil turns 20 years old today, Happy Birthday!
Way back in March of 1996 on my way home from school, a friend told me that another friend had just got this really scary game over the weekend and we all had to see it. So there I was clambered into a small room not much bigger than a storage room with a group of my friends watching this game with unprecedented horror and suspense, that game was Resident Evil on the PlayStation One.
The moment I saw the zombie feasting on a dead corpse will forever live long in my memory and it is now easily one of the most iconic scenes in gaming history. We had the control pad passed to us as we all eagerly anticipated our turn, I died following the very first zombie encounter, but despite my fun being cut short, my love for Resident Evil will last a life time. Which also to my wife’s annoyance, has resulted in me gathering way too much Resident Evil memorabilia, games and various bits’n’bobs that we are able to sensibly store into our small house.
Today Capcom celebrates 20 years of Resident Evil and while the series has lost much of its horror and suspense from its early days, it continues to be one of the most popular gaming franchises of all-time with Resident Evil 2 being my personal favourite (along with the 2002 remake). Now, despite me always being late when it comes to being able to buy consoles (or should I say my parents) in my teenage years, I never missed a game from the series, albeit I had to mostly rely on my friends gaming console, whether it be the PS1 or the Sega Saturn.
But back in 1998, fortune was coming my way. Back in those days we never had worldwide releases or even games that released during the same week across the globe. The UK was sometimes months behind the likes of North America and Japan. Thankfully for me, I had a globe-trotting older brother that brought back a Japanese PS1 with a copy of Resident Evil 2, months ahead of its release in the UK. To say that I played this game to death was an understatement. That first encounter with the Licker will always been one of my favourite memories from the series, that Licker spit though? And of course, I’ll never forget the legendary Will Smit zombie! This time it was me who my friend relied upon to play Resident Evil (even though I’d still take the console round to his house) and following downing a pint or two of coffee (yes, really), our gaming sessions would start from mid-afternoon to mid-day the following day. Heck, we even managed to complete that insanely difficult Tofu challenge!
Following Resident Evil 2, in 1999 we had Resident Evil 3: Nemesis with its stalking Nemesis and branching storyline, it set a slightly new direction for the series. Then in 2000, the Sega Dreamcast was gifted with the then exclusive; Resident Evil: Code Veronica. This for me was probably the hardest game in the series, which also at the time was easily the best looking game yet. It stared Claire Redfield as the main playable character in pursuit of her brother Chris, which led her to be imprisoned on Rockfort Island. Then unbeknown to a lot of fans (before everything was all over the internet), the second part of the game saw you take control of Chris himself. Resident Evil: Code Veronica would later come to other formats, including a fairly recent HD version.
In-between 2000 and 2004, Capcom spawned many questionable spin-offs to the series, but it wasn’t until 2005 that we got which is regarded by many, as the best game in the series with Resident Evil 4. This game would step away from the traditional zombies, and instead relied upon some scary and weird village folk controlled by a parasite somewhere in remote Europe. Set 6 years after the events of Resident 2, Leon Kennedy is on a one-man mission to save the president’s daughter, Ashley Graham. Resident Evil 4 was packed with epic boss battles, bucket loads of tension and a lengthy campaign, it even brought us an improved version of the Mercenaries mode that we first saw in Resident Evil 3. For me, while this isn’t my personal favourite game in the series, it’s certainly among them and one that I still return to on the occasion to this very day.
But while Resident Evil 4 was considered to be the best from the series by many, it was arguably the start of the downfall for the long running series. While it contains plenty of horror and memorable moments, it also featured a lot of action orientated gameplay too. Which some blame for spilling over into Resident Evil 5 in 2009 and Resident Evil 6 in 2012. Yes, I know out of the three campaigns in Resident Evil 6, Leon’s had more of the traditional horror and it started off great, but towards the end even that campaign seemed to forget its identity and started to go all gung-ho like Steven Seagal. In fact, with its three campaigns, it seemed that Resident Evil 6 didn’t have a clue what game it wanted to be and stank of a game desperately trying to appease as many people as possible. It seemed that Resident Evil had sadly lost its identity.
However, rewinding back to 2002, Capcom in my opinion released the best remake to any game of all-time with Resident Evil on the Nintendo GameCube, arguably Shinji Mikami’s finest work. This game alone was the reason I bought Nintendo’s latest console and it was money well spent. This remake set a standard of how remakes should be done. Its visuals were sublime, even holding its own today, dub deeper into its lore, it added more rooms and puzzles to the Spencer mansion and new enemies such as the harrowing Lisa Trevor. But for me the biggest surprise of the new enemies that caused me to crap my pants more than most was those Crimson Zombies!
Unless you blew the head off the Crimson Zombie or burned them to a crisp, they would come back alive (so to speak) and even come crashing through doors! They really were a game changer for the series, which sadly we’ve never seen again. The Crimson Zombies were even absent in the prequel of Resident Evil, with Resident Evil Zero, which also released on the GameCube in 2002. It would have been great to have seen this enemy type evolve from regular zombie to super-zombie in the prequel.
For now, it seems the glory days of Resident Evil may have come and gone. Though you can still revisit HD remastered versions of the Resident Evil remake and Zero on current platforms or if you’re new to the series, I couldn’t recommend either game enough, especially the first. However, if you want the closest thing to survival horror from the series with a new (ish) game, you can also try Resident Evil Revelations (3DS, PS3 and Xbox 360) and Resident Evil Revelations 2 which was released only last year and stars none other than Claire Redfield and the main man himself, Barry Burton. Just don’t go expecting the same level of consistent horror that was experienced during its early years.
With Capcom doing such a fine job with its two recent Resident Evil remasters, they will be releasing Resident Evil 6 on the current gen systems later this month, followed by Resident Evil 5 during the summer and Resident Evil 4 at the end of the year. Yes, the latter two aren’t the best in the series, but I’m a sucker when it comes to the series and I’ll still buy them. I just hope after its already had its fair share of HD releases, Resident Evil 4 holds up well on the new systems, hopefully Capcom will put as much love and attention into it, as they did with the recent remasters. Then in May, we have the online shooter that is Umbrella Corps, hopefully this won’t be another Operation Raccoon City failure.
There is still some hope on the horizon for the series, with the announcement of a Resident Evil 2 remake in August of last year. But at this time, we do not have any release dates as of yet. I just hope that it reaches the kind of standards set in 2002 and if done right, this could be the revitalisation that the series desperately needs, and hopefully if successful, it will spawn a new title in the series that is a genuine survival horror experience, and none of this gung-ho Steven Seagal malarkey.
Right, I’ve rambled on for quite enough now (I could go on for longer), so I’d like to hear your thoughts and memories on Resident Evil over the past 20 years. Which are your favourite and worst games in the series? Where would you like the series to be headed? Personally I believe the online game that is Resident Evil: Outbreak was way ahead of its time in 2003/04, so I’d love to see a new game in that series. Share your thoughts and memories in the comments section below.
Also, you can watch a developer interview below featuring Hiroyuki Kobayashi and hear his experiences with working on the Resident Evil series. Together, let’s once again enter the world of survival horror.